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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Friday, 12 October 2012

On This Day, 12 October; Smoky Mouse Day and Spanish National Day

* Today is Spain's national day - it marks, perhaps surprisingly to those on the outside, the day in 1492 that Columbus arrived in America, in the Bahamas to be precise. Apparently it represents a compromise between different Spanish political perspectives, but this is not the place to explore that. Biologically, Spanish connections with Australia are a bit limited, though in 1606 Luis Váez de Torres (occasionally claimed to be Portuguese) became the first European known to have sailed between New Guinea and Australia, through the strait that now bears his name. However one Australian plant has been named for a Spaniard, namely Francisco Manuel Blanco, an Augustine friar and botanist who wrote the first comprehensive Flora of the Philippines in 1837. The English botanist John Lindley named the Western Australian genus Blancoa for him in 1840. Blancoa canescens - Winter Bell, Red Bugle or sometimes Maida Vale Bell - is the only member of the genus, which is in the family Haemadoraceae, closely related to the kangaroo paws. It is limited to the sandplains of south-western Australia.
Blancoa canescens, Moore River National Park, north of Perth.
* Also on this day, in 1985, Will Osborne of the University of Canberra was trapping small mammals along New Chums Road in the Brindabella Ranges above Canberra, in Namadgi National Park, when he caught a single male Smoky Mouse, Pseudomys fumeus. It was an area of tall wet eucalypt forest that had been thoroughly trapped previously and we thought we knew what was there. Hitherto the mouse, one of the 'old Australian endemic' rodents, had been known only from Victoria, the nearest known site being nearly 200km to the south on Mt Cobberas. Intensive further searching failed to find any more, though later another one turned up in entirely different sub-alpine habitat near the top of nearby Mount Kelly. More recently still, other populations have been found closer than Mt Cobberas, in forests in south-eastern New South Wales. To me, this is a day to remind ourselves how little we really know of the world around us, and how important it is to remember that, and to always apply the precautionary principle. 

Smoky Mouse, courtesy Arkive.

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